Clara is the only child of a wealthy doctor. She has lost her other siblings to cholera, including her twin. She lives in splendor, but her family is very unhappy and she often feels neglected by her grieving parents. For her birthday, she requests that Grisini and his two young assistants come perform at her home. Clara and Grisini’s orphaned assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, have an instant connection. Clara feels especially sympathetic with Lizzie Rose, who seems intelligent and kind.
Clara is delighted by the puppeteer’s performance, but mysteriously goes missing the next day. Things get even more strange when suddenly, Parsefall and Lizzie Rose find a doll in Grisini’s things that looks exactly like her, and after a terrifying incident with Grisini, he, too disappears. Soon the children receive a mysterious letter from a wealthy woman, and they embark on a perilous journey across the English countryside, not knowing that the woman is a witch and is trying to entrap them to relieve herself from a terrible curse.
Part fairytale, part historical novel, and all superbly written, Splendors and Glooms has the perfect hint of macabre and magic to keep its readers totally spellbound. Based on how many times this book has been checked out, I have to conclude that it hasn’t been noticed on our shelves yet, but I’ll give it time (it has only spent a few months at the library, after all). Like Grisini’s puppets, the book pulses with life. After reading some great reviews over at Booklist and seeing that it won a Newbery and Best of 2012 nod from Kirkus, I had to read this book. I was not disappointed. The characters were multifaceted and believable, and the journey of the three children was both exciting and a little bit spooky.
Laura Amy Schlitz is also the author of the Newbery-winning, Junior Library Guild Selection, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from the Medieval Village.